Roy Halladay would probably have hated his number-retirement ceremony.
Halladay once said he preferred playing in sold-out stadiums to half-empty ones, because it was easier to ignore noise in a space that was full of it.
That way, he could imagine himself isolated on the mound. If things were going right, even the catcher and hitter would disappear. Just Halladay and a target. He liked to work alone.
Halladay, an instinctive wallflower, would not have enjoyed the mournful pomp of Thursday's ceremony and especially would not have appreciated being the focus of it. But he might've liked one thing – its brevity.
There were no speeches or dirges. Just a quick roll through the highlights with his family and favourite former teammates looking on. It was just less than 15 minutes, start to finish.
Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail
Halladay was not one of those "many things to many people" types. He was few things to the relatively few people who knew him well. He just happened to do those few things as well as anyone ever had. Efficiency was prime among them. Halladay did not fritter his time or energy. And there was none of that.
The choice of on-field admirers was also fitting. There were a couple of bold-face names – Chris Carpenter, Scott Rolen – but most were the sort who might charitably be described as role players – Jason Frasor, Paul Spoljaric, Jose Cruz Jr., et al.
What they had in common as pros was a quiet dedication. As with Halladay, they were the sorts of players other players emulated.
"Doc didn't teach me how to play baseball," Dustin McGowan, another of that sort, said in a video tribute. "Doc taught me how to be a professional."
This was the Toronto organization's chance to correct the record after fumbling its initial response to Halladay's death in a November airplane crash. The Jays froze in that moment, treating an icon's death as it would some minor calamity – a quick-draw news release with a few pulled quotes. They got the timing right, but missed out on all the symbolism. They did not seem to understand in the moment that that was all that mattered.
People, and especially sports fans, have a deep need to see their heroes lionized. That's why people go to parades. Having finally been given the opportunity to put one of their own under a halo, the Jays at first missed it.
But, credit where it's due, they eventually got it right. Halladay now stands alongside Roberto Alomar as the only Blue Jays' player whose digits are off-limits for all time.
Unlike Alomar (and most other guys who get their numbers retired), Halladay won no titles. His 12-year Toronto tenure coincided with a long stretch of featureless and apathetic Jays' teams.
But that desultory period was the making of Halladay's legend, at least locally. It wasn't just that he was good. For a long time in Toronto, Halladay was the only guy who cared.
A September game with the team miles out of it? Halladay wanted that. A Jays win in which he'd pitched poorly? Halladay not-so-secretly seethed.
Asked before Thursday's ceremony for a memory of the best player he ever managed, John Gibbons reached back to a meaningless game at Fenway. He couldn't remember the score or the situation or even the year. What he remembered was Halladay.
Gibbons bugged his eyes out to illustrate the way Halladay would stare at the manager as he walked out to pull him.
"He'd look at you like, 'What are you doing here?'" Gibbons said.
You didn't want that.
During that game at Fenway, the Jays were up big after eight – four runs – and the closer needed some work. So Gibbons pulled Halladay.
Halladay wanted to go longer – he always did – but he didn't complain.
"So [the closer] goes in there and all hell breaks loose," Gibbons said.
The Jays pulled it out, but Boston's go-ahead run got to the plate.
Afterward, Gibbons found Halladay and said, "'Roy, I'll never do that again. Trust me.' And if I remember right, he said, 'Don't worry about it.'"
Halladay was not a memorable speaker – wooden and robotic. It was another thing he hated doing, and may have purposefully been bad at it to discourage interview attempts. But now people talk about his most mundane utterances as though they were poetry.
Gibbons's story is a small one, but that's how mythologies are built – one small miracle at a time. Eventually, even the inconsequential ones are freighted with meaning.
For the teller, it is like having encountered a saint. It hardly matters what was said. All that counts is that you were there.
Halladay would have waited 20 or 25 years for this effect to be fully realized, but dying young granted it to him overnight, as well as magnifying it. He would be only 40 now, but he is already the Toronto Blue Jays' Ghost of Christmas Past.
It may be macabre, but every special sports organization is built in part on the graves of great players who died too soon or tragically – or both.
Lou Gehrig is the base on which The Yankee Way is built. Manchester United is the best-known sports brand in the world because of the Munich Air Disaster and the Busby Babes. Nobody remembers Brian Piccolo as a football player, but he is the man most synonymous with the Chicago Bears.
Halladay already had the personal and professional bona fides necessary to becoming a legend. He never said anything intemperate or put a foot out of place in public. He had the up-by-his-bootstraps backstory. He had superhuman attributes – focus and intensity – that now grow with every re-telling.
Other Toronto Blue Jays did things just as or more remarkable, but Halladay will forever be the Blue Jay par excellence, the guy who leads off every video montage. He's Ace Bailey in high definition.
There is no way to erase the tragedy of a life lost too soon, but for someone such as Halladay, there is at least a temporal afterlife.
He may gone, but you can no longer tell the story of the Toronto Blue Jays without telling his as well.